I count myself among the fortunate parents of kids who do not have picky eaters. Well, mostly lucky. My youngest is just 14 years old and still very attuned to the texture and spiciness of food, making some sauces and stews off-limits. But there are still plenty of veggies on the approved list to round out his diet. We are omnivores in our house and I have three hungry, teenage boys to feed. But I keep the meat to a minimum, which means I lean heavily on fruit and a wide variety of veggies to round out the plate.
It was not just random luck, however, that the boys grew up with an appreciation for eating veggies. I engaged them in the garden with me from a young age. Not because I knew of the research showing that kids who garden and are exposed to veggies at a young age will be more likely to eat them. Twice as likely, in fact, according to researchers at St. Louis University. There is now a large body of research now supports early engagement with growing and cooking food leads to better diets throughout our lives. "When children are involved with growing and cooking food, it improves their diet," researcher Haire-Joshu said.
I got them into the garden because that’s how I was raised. By parents who liked to garden and exposed me to the joys of watching a seed sprout and grow into something beautiful, miraculous and edible. I never lost the excitement of waiting to see my seeds sprout. And the harvest, when all the work and patience is rewarded, is enormously satisfying. Parents who garden will recognize that their kids naturally share and even amplify that excitement and wonder. The picture to the right is of my own son, Nicholas, clearly thrilled at finally being able to harvest his carrots. No surprise, he LOVED how they tasted because he grew them!
More Benefits for the Family
Another benefit of gardening with kids has also recently come into focus. What we plant and eat has a direct impact on the microflora growing in our gut. Western diets are notoriously bad because red meat and processed foods are loaded with saturated fats, sugars and low amounts of fiber. This leads to a biome that lacks diversity, which can have significant impact on our overall health. Diverse microbiomes stimulate our immune system, fend off chronic diseases, build muscle tissue and more. What we eat is the soil and fertilizer of our gut biome. A diverse, plant-based diet is the best way to develop a healthy microbiome. And, it turns out, that the microflora we establish early influences our health for the rest of our lives.
I’m betting my kids have a pretty healthy gut biome. As younger kids, they used to crave fast food and sweets because we very rarely had them. It was the forbidden fruit. But I’ve been pleased to witness that they make good choices now that they’re older and they have agency over their food decisions. I credit it to the fact that they grew up eating real food. We’re not perfect and I’m certainly not lecturing other parents – I know how hard it can be to keep a family running with busy schedules. But setting the stage early on has paid dividends for our family. In my view, there is a direct relationship between their diets now and the fun we had gardening together when they were young enough to want to emulate their parents.
You may be wondering how or whether this same enthusiasm translates to indoor gardening. I have some unique insight on that as my boys have all been involved in Rise Gardens since its inception. While I’ve always been a gardener, I haven’t always been in the gardening business. I spent the previous 25 years in sports technology, most recently running an innovative company, Sportvision. My three active boys loved that job and got to go to some great sporting events over the years. When I sold that business and started working on Rise Gardens, they were incredulous. “Dad, you’re quitting sports technology to become a farmer?” That didn’t seem like a great idea to them at the time. It turns out, however, that an IoT-driven, app-enabled, hydroponic indoor garden is also pretty cool. When they bring friends over to our house, our Rise Garden is the first thing they show them. I stand back and watch them show it to their friends and talk about all it can do. They have their own favorite plants and we all tend to the garden in the house.